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Gaiares (Genesis, 1990-91)

A long December…

Gaia, no, that jet’s on your side!
This is not a He-Man game, but there is phallic symbolism everywhere.


PUBLISHER: Renovation

DEVELOPER: Telenet Japan

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 12/26/90 – (JP), 02/91 – (US)

Gaiares, it’s not you, it’s me. I say this with full confidence. I’m tired of shoot-em-ups, especially ones like you that require constant upkeep. You’re high maintenance, and that’s ok. Some people like a challenge. Normally I’m up for one, but after 1990’s shoot-em-up onslaught – Darwin 4081, Whip Rush, Thunder Force III, Twin Hawk, Phelios, XDR, Insector X, Hellfire, Arrow Flash, Fire Shark, Atomic Robo-Kid, Elemental Master, Dangerous Seed, Darius II, and M.U.S.H.A. – I’m tired. Not just physically tired, either, soul tired. That deep down “ready for an extended vacation from this genre” level of exhausted. That said, I will persevere. I’ll reconstruct our time together as objectively as I can. If I let loose with the occasional outburst, forgive me. My load is heavy.

Things are happening! Let’s go!

The story: humanity has polluted Earth to the extent that few humans remain. The Gulfer are a band of space pirates who want to use Earth’s pollution to fuel their weapons of mass destruction. The United Star Cluster of Leezaluth (ugh) implore Earth to stop the Gulfer before it’s too late. If the humans can’t or won’t, Leezaluth will destroy the Earth in order to stop the Gulfer. If humans choose to go after them and succeed, the Leezaluth will bestow humanity with a new Earth-like planet to ruin- er, live on. Only Dan, a rugged, mysterious space pilot steps up to take on the Gulfer challenge and hopefully save the day for mankind.

That’s a real pickle.

Upon first glance, Gaiares looks like your everyday common horizontal shoot-em-up. You shoot, you fly, you destroy clusters of enemies. A cautiously heroic soundtrack plays in the background. But oh wait, what’s that thingamabob flying around your ship? It’s not just an option that spews missiles (although it’s definitely that, as well), it’s TOZ, a weapon system that steals weapons from enemies and give them to you. Say some jerk robots are shooting lasers at you. Unleash TOZ to suck a weapon from one of the jerks (mind any stray fire – once TOZ is released, you can’t shoot until it comes back), then give the robots a taste of their own heat.

I’ll have what that massive cannon’s having.

The TOZ makes Gaiares a game worth playing, if only once. Just by using it on different enemies, you have access to at least a dozen different weapons, possibly more.You can’t, however, store up an arsenal of different weapons. Once you get a weapon, it’s the only one you can use until you unleash the TOZ on a separate enemy. Because of the TOZ, there are no standard weapon power-ups, but there are defensive items that the TOZ can latch onto, like shields, brief invincibility, etc. that provide some much needed protection.

My shields are definitely up.

In the early Genesis days, 4 Meg cartridges were the universal standard. Gaiares is a whopping 8 Megs. The extra 4 megs are for some slightly animated cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game (facial animations, ships flying around, but not much else), and the gorgeous screen-filling bosses, like Death Ghetto (a grim reaper) and Demarina (a robotic mermaid in a shell). Apart from these two niceties, I didn’t think Gaiares looked or played any better than beloved 4-Meg Genesis shmups, like M.U.S.H.A. or Thunder Force III.

Japan’s robotics industry is light years ahead of ours.

The levels have some interesting moments, but grow difficult to appreciate as the game throws environmental hazards at you. For example, sailing into a castle environment before you fight Death Ghetto gave the game a Castlevania-in-space feel that was unexpected and welcome. In this area, however, are guillotines with chains that block you from moving forward. After you’ve shot the chain enough, it will raise, but you have to floor it through the guillotine hole before the blade falls and destroys you. It takes split-second precision and timing to make it, and the game forces you to do it several times in a row.

You want to keep flying, but the Gobstopper has ideas of his own…

Alright, Gaiares, devastating truth time. You’re way too damn hard. It’s just not fun to die several times in a row, because enemies and projectiles literally fill the screen and there’s nowhere to move. Perhaps it’s just a matter of “getting good” at understanding your mysterious ways. But I’m not gonna take the time. I’m burnt out on shoot-em-ups. Good, bad, mediocre, doesn’t matter, I’m worn. So the fact that you are, without a doubt, the hardest shoot-em-up I’ve yet to play on the Genesis, and possibly any other console, doesn’t endear me to you whatsoever.

Time for a drank.

The TOZ system was the only aspect of Gaiares that made me perk up in my chair. For once in a shoot-em-up, if you die in the middle of the stage, you don’t have to wait and hope you don’t die again until a better weapon to come along. I could just use the TOZ on an enemy and get something right away. As I ventured further into Gaiares, my curiosity to see what weapons I could procure and if they would make the game more interesting/somewhat easier to deal with, made me press on further than I wanted to. While some of the weapons were good, nothing made me want to go beyond level 4.

The sweet release of death and not a moment too soon.

And so, Gaiares, my time with you ends here. I know other people have appreciated you over the years, and I’m sure many more will be charmed by your ludicrous challenge and intriguing weapon system in the years to come. Good for them. I’m taking a nap.


17 replies on “Gaiares (Genesis, 1990-91)”

Don’t worry Dylan, after this shooter, and the next shooter, you only have about another 40 or so to go on the Genesis, plus the 8 on Sega CD, 1 on 32X, and then about 1000 for the Saturn and Dreamcast.

As for the game itself, I don’t think I’ve ever played it, but those screenshots make it look pretty boss.

Hang in there, dylan, you still have five years of shmups before randiant silvergun comes out.

But seriously, your effort to getting these obscure games known to us is appreciated, as usual. For what it’s worth, your review did make this game sound somewhat interesting and ambitious to me. I’ll probably give it a try sometime, abusing save states on kega fusion, of course.

Wow I wasn’t expecting you to be so harsh on this one. It’s tough no doubt, but if I remember correctly there is a cheat code for invincibility so you can at least see the end of the game. This is not my favorite genre but I appreciate this game nonetheless.

That I never purchased this game and only rented it notwithstanding. This game is one of my favorite shooters on the Genesis. Now it’s been between 25-30 years since I played it it, but I remember this game very fondly. I could be forgetting the difficulty. But I do know I beat it on a weekend rental. I thought the power up method of stealing from enemies was great. And the graphics and bosses were some of the best I’ve seen in a 16 bit shooter. I will say that maybe it doesn’t quite flow as well as some other great 16-bit shooters like Thunder Force 3. But I think it’s a great game. A top shooter on the platform. I can remember getting ridiculously powered up in this game. And man the bosses? Giant robo dragons, mechs, grim reapers. I mean it’s kind of ridiculous how good some of the stages and bosses look.

Anyway I’d recommend everyone at least try this game.

Your review reminds me video game magazines of the day:
“What’s that, another shoot’em up? It’s the tenth only this week, for God’s sake! Stop it, no one can take more shoot’em ups! 58%”
(⁀ ᗢ ⁀)

Haha, ok, ya got me. To be fair, though, I was expecting more from Gaiares. And I did find it sinfully hard, which is a huge turnoff. I don’t think it’s a bad game, but I really don’t like it, if that makes sense.

I find every shmup hard, so the difficulty of this one didn’t particularly phase me. Like other commenters I really expected you’d like Gaiares more. Sorry you’ve encountered it during such a nadir of genre fatigue!

Oof. Harshness. I get it, though. Unless you’re a shmup die-hard like myself, it’s hard to go into a game like Gaiares and feel like you’re accomplishing much of anything. Yes, the TOZ is the game’s main draw, and while it has good graphics and a relatively good soundtrack, I would agree that both MUSHA and the latter Thunder Force games all best Gaiares on both fronts. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the game myself, because of its punishing difficulty, but I would encourage you to come back to this one at some point, once your shmup fatigue has worn off somewhat, and especially after you play a couple more wretched, or thunderingly mediocre shooters. I suspect you’ll see this game in a better light. It is somewhat divisive within the 16-bit shooter fan community, and your review is a good encapsulation of that. Some people swear by this game, others find the difficulty too hard, or the game doesn’t offer enough to make them want to come back. But as I said, I would give it another go after you’ve had a break, and I suspect you’ll find more to like at that point.

Oh wow, what a low score. This is one of my favorites by far! I didn’t like how the music didn’t seem to match many of the levels though (particularly the level 2 boss music and the music for the level 3 boss; they just seemed way too out of place.

Anyway, I have to admit that beating this game involved a whole lot of luck. Sometimes, when you don’t have any powered up weapons, you can get the TOZ to latch on to very weak enemies that actually hold the most powerful weapons in the game by random chance. One of these weapons would shoot triangle-shaped yellow bullets that just shred any enemy, even bosses (without having to hit their weak points). If you managed to snag this weapon, lucky you! Too bad that the game took it away when you cleared the level (and that if you have any weapon powered to level 2, you can’t steal that weapon because the TOZ would destroy the enemies that carry it instead of latching on to them).

Anyway, this game was published by Renovation, which quickly became one of my favorite game publishers for the Genesis. Gaiares, the Valis series, El Viento, Granada; these were all games published by Renovation, and I enjoyed most of them.

I enjoyed your review, Gaiares is amazing, but it’s probably one of the hardest games I have ever played (and i have beaten many hard games so far). I made it to the boss of stage 5 (and I did a lot of practice), this game is just insanely difficult and sometimes unfair. Legend says that the developers of this game were asked to make this game as hard as they can, and when they came back, the boss said, go back and make it even harder, and the devs started to worry. Even hardcore gamers will find this one very hard, and 99% of casual gamers won’t pass the 3rd stage.
I made it to stage 5 but… there are 8 stages in this game (7+final boss)… omg
Take care.

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